5 Tips to Get Donations on Nonprofit and Charity Websites

by Nielsen Norman Group on June 29, 2014

Summary: To encourage donations, focus on answering potential-donors’ top questions and streamlining the donation process.


Our usability tests of nonprofit and charity websites show that people have high expectations of nonprofit and charity websites — which some sites don’t meet. Users have specific questions, and if sites do not address these questions, they have little desire or motivation to find the answers. Once users decide to donate, a clear call to action and a simplified donation process keeps them on the right track.

To get donations, follow these 5 guidelines:

1. Clearly Explain What the Organization Does

Our studies tell us that the most important pieces of information that people need to know about a charity or nonprofit before they make a donation are the type of work that the organization does and how that work is done.

In our studies, we found that many sites did not clearly communicate this vital information or made it too hard for users to access. On average, it took users about 6 minutes to locate information about the organization’s purpose, which was far too long. A task time of 1 minute for this crucial task would be a more reasonable goal, showing that current nonprofit sites are 500% too slow to use.

After much misery and excruciating time spent locating the answers, in most cases, the organizational information was vague and convoluted.

Websites that provided this information in a clear, concise, and easy-to-understand manner had an advantage over those that had ambiguous goals and objectives. The organizations that received donations simply described what they did and how they did it in a succinct and easy to understand manner. This information was enough to convince people—if they agreed with their mission—to make a donation.

2. Disclose How Donations are Used

The second most important detail that users needed to know about an organization before donating was how their contribution would be used. The organizations that provided this information on their sites helped potential donors understand where their money would go.

Some sites provided this information, but others did not. Regardless, users hunted for it, and those who found it were pleased that the organization disclosed the information. Those who couldn’t find the information were aggravated and thought the organization was inefficient or trying to bury those details.

Even if the percentage that went to programs and initiatives was lower than users had hoped, they were still pleased to see the information and felt confident that the organization wasn’t hiding anything from them.

3. Display Third Party Endorsements

An organization’s reputation and legitimacy is another important piece of information users needed to know before making a donation. In our study, people often used the following information to decide whether or not a nonprofit or charity was worthy of their donation:

  • watchdog ratings
  • high profile endorsements
  • testimonials
  • name recognition
  • number of years in operation

Users also relied on recommendations from friends and family members. (This is an instance of the social proof principle, which is when testimonials and friends’ recommendations encourage users to act. This principle is further discussed in our Credibility and Persuasion course.)

In particular, endorsements or high ratings from watchdog organizations, such as Charity Navigator, Independent Charities of America, and the American Institute of Philanthropy, communicated to users that the organization was credible and reliable.

Users compiled third party endorsements with other facts gathered from the website to decide whether or not to donate. If a nonprofit or charity has this type of information, it’s important to tout it, because users want to know if an organization is credible before donating to it.

4. Provide a Noticeable and Clear Link to Donate

When users were ready to make a donation, they wanted to get to the donation process quickly and easily. Unfortunately, many users spent too much time looking for a way to donate when they were ready to do it. In fact, about 25% of the homepages included in our study failed to provide a Donate call to action.

The donation call to action should be straightforward and noticeable on every page of the website. It’s best to use clear, concise words, especially when asking for monetary donations. The phrases Donate and Donate Now were immediately understood by users in our study.

The “I Have A Dream” Foundation had a link to donate on the homepage, but the call to action was Contribute. Some users questioned what the word "contribute" meant. Most assumed it was a monetary donation, but it was also confused with donations of time or goods.

5. Streamline the Donation Process

In our studies, the donation process took, on average, 4 minutes and 15 seconds (from clicking the Donate call to action until the confirmation page displayed). In our e-commerce study, the checkout process took, on average, 3 minutes and 58 seconds (from clicking the Checkout call to action until the confirmation page displayed).

Creating a seamless donation process will increase the odds of getting users to complete the process. Sites in our study had varying approaches to the donation process. Some processes had two steps—a form and a confirmation page—and others were broken down into smaller, incremental steps. Users didn’t prefer one process over another. As long as the information being requested was presented in a clear and easy-to-understand manner, users completed the transactions successfully.

Although the donation process requires less information than a typical e-commerce checkout process, it took longer for users to complete, on average. The longer task time, on average, was likely caused by two factors:

  • More familiarity with the e-commerce checkout process: Most users in our studies made more online purchases than online donations per year, so they were more familiar with the checkout process and knew what to expect. For this reason, it’s imperative that nonprofits and charities strive to mimic the checkout process within the donation process on their sites.
  • Extra steps required in the donation process: Some donation processes had fields or actions, such as making a donation in someone’s honor or setting up recurring donations, which required more typing and decision making than the typical e-commerce checkout and thus increased the overall interaction cost for the form.

An Easy-To-Use Website and a Fast Donation Process Can Increase Donations

Organizations that depend on donations should not underestimate the impact of their website. Providing straightforward details about what work the organization does, how it uses donations, and who endorses them can convince people to donate. For motivated donors, a clear and easy-to-find Donate call to action and a streamlined donation process should be provided.

For additional UX guidelines for nonprofit and charity websites, see our report on Attracting Donors and Volunteers on Nonprofit and Charity Websites.


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